The important questions to ask anyone selling boxed native Australian bees:
What species of bee are they? Do they belong to your area?
Some types are better pollinators and honey producers than others. Obviously this also depends on your location and climate. It is always preferable to have a boxed hive of the bees that are endemic to your area.
What timber is the box made from, and how thick are the walls?
When I split hives for customers I see boxes with varying degrees of quality.
Some boxes are only 20mm thick and are made from plantation pine, which will not last as long as other timbers exposed to the elements. I have seen some with wood rot in them – they need replacing after a few years! Some are well made, but again the wood will not last in our harsh climate.
Ideally walls should be at least 40–50mm thick. Mine are made from hardy Australian cypress pine.
How many coats of paint do the boxes have?
Some of the boxes I have seen have only one or two coats of paint – not enough to protect the wood. Ask for three.
When was the hive last split?
Split hives are best left for a minimum of three months or longer before they are sold. In SE Qld and mid-to-north NSW my hive-splitting season is from September to early February, depending on the weather and morning temperatures. The northern Australian bees hives can be split year round.
Does the box have a honey super on it?
This is important if you would like home grown honey now and again. When you first get your hive, weigh it so that you can see as time goes by if the hive is thriving (getting heavier) and/or producing honey.
If it does have a honey super, when was the hive last robbed of honey?
If the hive is newly split it probably won’t have any honey in the super.
What material are any dividers made from and how many are used in the box?
This is important when it comes to robbing the honey. Some materials used to make dividers just create a mess of spilt honey when it comes to robbing a hive.
What is used to hold the box together?
Ask your supplier how each hive section is secured to the next. (Full boxed hives with honey can weigh up to 15kg and can break apart if they are not adequately held.)
What is used to protect the hive from small hive beetle?
Ideally there will be hive beetle traps, or metal mesh across the entrance and all air/drip holes.
How is the hive to be mounted?
There are many ways to do this. One way is to attach a pipe to the side of the hive which fits over a star picket for easy of placement in the garden.
We hope this is helpful: Bee forearmed and bee prepared!
Happy native bee keeping, regards, Matthew